by David Shields

Post-9/11, I supported, albeit reluctantly, airport security racial profiling. It seemed a necessary and, one hoped, temporary evil. Recently, on a promotional tour for my book Enough About You: Adventures in Autobiography, I traveled to half a dozen U.S. cities and was detained at least once at every airport, without exception.

In Seattle, my carry-on bag was turned inside out. In Los Angeles I was asked why I was traveling without a roundtrip ticket. In Chicago, I was told to step out of my shoes. In Boston, I was frisked from shoulder to shin. In Newark I was called out of line at the check-in counter and escorted to a roped-off area, where I joined a dozen other foreign or foreign-speaking or foreign-looking men. Waiting for our bags to be x-rayed, we looked like the control group that hadn't received the medication. Our collective crime was flying while looking Arab.

I'm not Arab, but Jewish. I was carrying a large black carry-on bag and wearing a black coat. I have a shaved head and goatee. I look a bit like a taller, bespectacled, far less handsome and well-dressed Hamid Karzai.

Being detained was at most an exceedingly minor inconvenience. My point isn't that a liberal is a conservative who has been detained at the airport (I think I still support airport security racial profiling, though it seems to me al Qaeda's next major act will not be a sequel but an entirely new movie.) My point, instead, is that I have a newfound appreciation for the psychic cost of racial profiling.

I knew I wasn't carrying anything that could remotely be construed as dangerous and yet whenever I would get pulled out of line, as I came to know I would, I found it at least a little (and increasingly) crazy-making. It made me sad and mad; made me want to do something that would in a way confirm the diagnosis, ratify the stereotype; excited whatever anti-social impulses I still possess. Toward the end of the trip, I started leaving a battery in my travel alarm clock, which was in my carryon, so the ticking sound would unnerve the authorities.

A few days after I got home, I went to my local video store on North 45th Street. The customer in front of me was a young African American man checking out several videos and wearing an Allen Iverson Sixers #3 jersey, cornrows, and tattoos--not exactly standard attire in Wallingford. The clerk asked the African American man for his name, phone number, driver's license, and a second picture ID, whereas the clerk recognized me and so waived me through.

As the other customer and I were walking out to the parking lot, I knew he didn't want or need to hear it from me, but I couldn't help it: I had to say something to him. I wanted to convey that not every white person in Wallingford was as suspicious of him as the clerk was, so I told him about my experience in airports the last two weeks. He listened with a smile on his face, shrugged, said, "Welcome to America," and turned to get in his car.